As I’d written before, The Pepperland at 57th Street and Lake Park Avenue evoked my thoughts of portals to another dimension. This, and the story behind the building, reveals how disconnected I feel and am from where I live. Perhaps I came here through a portal.
On a February visit to Istria Cafe, I’d noticed that the stark tower that had first snagged my attention had been painted a garish combination of purple and yellow that clashes with the deep red brick work and that the steel security door and window covers had been removed. The building was back in business. The next week a sign over the front entry proclaimed it to be “the Pepperland.” How Beatles-esque, I thought, but, perhaps still distracted by the lonely sound of train whistles in the night, my mind was still on portals and alternative universes.
I looked up the Pepperland online to see if there were any information or news about its reopening. Indeed there was, along with its most recent history as a party house near a campus renowned for its supposed lack of social life (a popular campus t-shirt: “Where fun comes to die”). Who knew the University of Chicago has a Frisbee team? Certainly not an old, reclusive nerd like me.
So, it turns out that, despite the grim look the building presents to the street (not unlike the grim fortress facade that Glessner House presents to the Prairie District), the Pepperland’s design is conducive to neighborly conviviality, a concept purportedly out of step with the University of Chicago’s popular (or un-) reputation where the life of the mind kills the life of the body.
Perhaps the Pepperland is still a portal to another dimension, just not the one I had imagined — less Alice Through the Looking Glass and more University of Michigan.